Family farms make up almost 90% of the total farms in the U.S. The average small family farm is just over 200 acres. This is quite a difference from Waggoner Ranch, located in Texas, estimated to be well over 500 Thousand acres. This ranch was acquired by the niece of Walmart’s founder and her husband a few years ago.
An article posted by Michigan State University’s School of Agriculture answers the question, “Does size matter?” when it comes to the size of farms. But what grabbed my attention was a claim that consumers are becoming increasingly more interested in where our food comes from? This is encouraging, except the article was posted in 2013. 2 Are we still interested?
According to the Center for Disease Control, six out of ten adults in the U.S. suffer from a chronic disease — 4 of 10 have at least two chronic diseases. In order of prevalence, the leading chronic diseases include heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, and kidney disease. These diseases are mostly preventable. The behaviors that result in so many of us suffering from chronic illness including smoking, poor nutrition, a lack of exercise, and alcohol consumption. 3
Thanks in large part to U.S. policies controlling food production in cooperation with the profit motives of fast food and supported by our general lack of willpower — the vast majority of us are overfed and undernourished.
If most of us are willing to die younger and live lesser lives so we can eat whatever satisfies our lust for quick, easy, and cheap, are you sure we really care where our food comes from?
Our addictions to various unhealthy foods in larger quantities cause to mistake our body’s craving for nutrition with a craving for more McDonald’s chicken nuggets.
And the wager, “I bet you can’t eat just one,” is a safe bet for any of us that crave the salt and fat that comes from eating snack foods. Potato chips are best known for two things: salt and fat. Eating salty food triggers the release of dopamine — a chemical messenger that triggers our brain’s pleasure center. Once we get that first reward hit, we crave more.
It’s like a drug pusher betting that you can’t stop after trying whatever they’re selling. We get hooked on the release of dopamine when we eat salty snacks.
Imagine a group of us decided we wanted to start a business. It doesn’t matter the product we plan to sell — we just want to make sure that our product has broad appeal, is cheap to make, and once people try it, they crave more of whatever we’re selling.
This lies at the heart of fast food — this lies at the heart of most of the food we’re offered and that many of us provide our children — setting them up for their unfair share of chronic disease. Are we really interested in where our food comes from?
In an annual church meeting, Asbury Church leadership voted unanimously that our church would pursue a status known as a “reconciling church.” The core value that this designation stands for is inclusiveness. That is, all persons are welcomed.
But what does this have to do with where food comes from?
Joel Salatin, in his book, The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs, writes that “If we would apply a litmus test of inclusive vs. exclusive to the food and farming system like we do access to God’s grace, it would paint a fundamentally different food system than the one patronized by most Christians.”
We believe that God’s grace is available to all without exception. No one is excluded from God’s grace. But our food system, complete with policies, laws, practices, and thousands of attorneys, favors huge industrial farm enterprises. Farms where profits take precedent over nutrition, requiring safety measures to reduce the risk of sickness caused by industrial farming practices.
According to Joel Salatin, industrial farms make lousy neighbors, and they are a nuisance to anyone living in the vicinity of one. Their chemicals cross boundaries, and their lawyers place claims against other farms where their chemicals land. The stench of overcrowded livestock is an affront to our sense of smell and creation.
Should those of us who claim to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ care about where our food comes from? Does it matter that our policies and practices favor large farms specializing in growing thousands of acres of the same crop? Does it matter that these farms require large quantities of deadly chemicals to keep them going?
Love God and neighbor. It’s as simple as that!
There is an often-quoted story in the book credited to Luke about neighboring. This story is best known as the story of the good samaritan. Like a lot of stories about Jesus, this one begins with a question asked by an antagonist. The question was straightforward enough. What does God expect of me? What are the minimal requirements to pass God’s test of goodness?
And also, like a lot of stories found in the gospels, Jesus responds with a question. “What do you think the answer is?” Jesus asks in response.
“Love God and neighbor. It’s as simple as that!” the interrogator answers. There! We have our answer! “Now go and do just what you said we ought to do,” Jesus responds. “Next question?”
Like a journalist at a press conference, there is a follow-up question aimed at uncovering a headline. “Who is my neighbor?”
Jesus is a storyteller. Many great teachers use stories to hold the interest of their audience while getting their point across. With stories, we can learn something we didn’t have the patience or willpower to simply believe and do on our own. So Jesus tells a story intended to hold the interest of the crowd and expose the hypocrisy of those with the same shoe size.
A man is robbed and left unable to get up. It’s a well-traveled road, so someone will surely help. The listeners are familiar with the road. It’s like Jesus saying to one of us that the crime took place along Dort Highway, where the nightclubs are.
A couple folks pass by like the man lying there might have COVID — they pass by with safe distancing. But finally, a man stops to help. Jesus is careful to give labels to each character that is familiar with His listeners. Those who passed by are respected titles and roles. The one who stopped to help is held in contempt.
At the end of His story, Jesus asks, “Which one was a neighbor to the man in need?”
Industrial farms are not good neighbors to anyone — whether next door or in another state. Yet this is where most of our food comes from. Isn’t it time to care where our food comes from?
Fast food places stay in business because selling fast food is profitable. The cars line up as families turn over their money in exchange for unhealthy food coming from industrial farms. Smaller, local farms can profit if, instead, enough of us line up to purchase healthy food from good neighbors.
Go and do as we know God expects us to — know where your food comes from.
We began our series, Living water, two weeks ago. If you missed our earlier episodes, you can find the articles under the Worship tab of our website — Messages and Audio Teachings. Our primary subject matter is food. How we grow it, where we get our food, and how we treat creation in the process.
In this series we explore God’s abundance and our role in its equitable use and distribution. Be sure to request your copy of Joel Salatin’s book. And join us each Wednesday at Noon for Book Club and each Sunday at 10:30 am for New Beginnings.
We have a new button on the homepage of our website – Click here to watch. This button takes you to a viewer to allow you to join live or watch later in the week. We’re also live on Facebook and our newly launched YouTube channel. You can find these links along with more information about us on our website at FlintAsbury.org.
A reminder that we publish this newsletter that we call the Circuit Rider each week. You can request this publication by email. Send a request to info@FlintAsbury.org or let us know when you send a message through our website. We post an archive of past editions on our website under the tab, Connect – choose Newsletters.
1 Most of the content for our series comes from: Joel Salatin. The Marvelous Pigness of Pigs: Respecting and Caring for All God’s Creation. New York: FaithWords, a Division of Hachette Book Group, 2016..
2 Mary Dunckel. “Small, medium, large – Does farm size really matter?” © Michigan State University Extension, November 14, 2013.
3 “Chronic Diseases in America.” The Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from www.CDC.gov.